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  • Writer's pictureDiana Brandt

Tempe Festival of the Arts Turns Fifty

Since its inaugural event as a tiny gathering to celebrate local Arizona-made artwork in 1968, the Tempe Festival of the Arts has been putting the Southwest on the map as a destination for art, artists, creators, makers and art enthusiasts. Spanning two centuries, and celebrating its gold anniversary, the 50th Fall Tempe Festival of the Arts takes place November 30th though December 2nd, 2018 in Downtown Tempe. Originally organized by MAMA (Mill Avenue Merchants Association) Executive Director, Frank Maguire as a “sidewalk sale” type of event known as the “Hayden’s Ferry Art Festival in Old Town Tempe”, the award-winning and nationally-acclaimed 3-day festival now draws upwards of 225,000+ visitors to as many as 375 booths lining Mill Avenue and the surrounding streets; presenting unique, and hand-made artwork that offers visitors a fantastically piebald urban art experience in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.

The festival takes place rain or shine over a 3-day weekend from 10am through 5:30pm daily, with open-air market appeal. Visitors encounter an array of art from over 350+ juried vendors including media such as ceramics, digital art, drawing, fiber, glass, jewelry, leather, metalwork, mixed media, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, upcycled and creative reuse, wood and more. The festive outdoor event boasts a vibrant, almost carnival-like atmosphere with artists’ booths and tents punctuated by strolling street performers, buskers, musicians and food and drink vendors.

The festival footprint is alive with an eclectic tones emanating from two stages at Centerpoint Stage and Hayden Station Stage (formerly Amphitheatre Stage) programed daily with a range of musical talent including the award-winning Tempe musician Walt Richardson, local performers like Hyperbella, Sugahbeat and The Hourglass Cats, as well as urban acts like AZ School of Hip Hop Phx, Hi Dreams, Stoneypie and a HOT 97.5 Stage Take Over. The Unplugged Lounge offers shaded seating and acoustic instrumentalists by the likes of recording artists Korbe Canida, Chad Gregory, Whitney Jones, El Klezmer and more. Visitors enjoy dozens of roaming street performers like dance troupes, a unicyclist, balloon art, break dancing with PWR Dance Team and a Bluegrass Camp with Jam Pak. The public is invited to join local artist Kylan Maney to create a commemorative art piece for the Festival's 50th anniversary. Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell and the founding event producers will make an official proclamation honoring the festival, including a not-to-be-missed, secret surprise twist announcement by the Mayor on Saturday December 1st at 2pm near the intersection of 5th Street and Mill Avenue.

Tempe Festival of the Arts serves up numerous options for drinking, snacking or taking home handmade goodies. Cottage Edibles and Crafts boasts an expansive variety of snacks and housewares from salsa, sauces, seasonings, soaps and confections to herbal botanicals, honey, hot sauce and more. From a Food Court featuring BBQ, concessions, noodles, samosas and more, to a selection of Food Trucks like Beaver Choice European & Canadian Street Food, The Maine Lobster Lady and Yellowman Fry Bread, to Snack Vendors including Churro GoNutz, Eureka Old Fashioned Soda, Pinnacle Peak Pie Company, Pura Vida Grinds, San Francisco Chocolate Factory, kettle corn and lemonade vendors and more, to Sweet Street offering redolent confections such as Dough Licious Desserts, Hot Cookie Truck, Waffle Crush, baked goods and beyond. There are two beer and wine gardens featuring locally-brewed Arizona beers from Tempe’s own, award-wining Pedal Haus Brewery and Four Peaks Brewing Company, as well as selections from Arizona-based wineries and distilleries such as Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, Page Springs Cellars, Pillsbury Wine Company and ten others available within the ticketed Arizona Wine & Spirit Tasting areas at Centerpoint and Maple Avenue.

While the event has appeal for all ages, families are particularly drawn to the festival’s free admission and lively atmosphere. Kids Block is a hands-on interactive block for young artists and a youth exhibition featuring 300+ student works from around the Valley on display and for sale. Also featured is a spectacular array of K-12 art in the Young Artist Exhibition and Competition, and new this year is the Young Collectors program, wherein a child can begin their art collecting journey by purchasing their very own piece of art handcrafted by one of the professional artists vending at the festival for just $5.00, fostering a lifetime appreciation for the arts. Another family favorite is Chalk-A-Lot Street, with a specially curated chalk section that allows professional chalk muralists to compete for awards, as well as festival goers to experiment with street chalk. Fourteen professional chalk artists from around the country will magically transform the terra firma of Tempe into an eye-catching and mind-blowing temporary trompe l’oeil for the amazement of spectators at this section.

“The admirable history of the Tempe Festival of the Arts has to do just as much with the city’s respect for the artist community, as it does the world-class artists and attendees from all walks of life themselves,” said the Downtown Tempe Authority’s Executive Director, Kate Borders. Borders points out that “Nearly a quarter of a million people from around the globe make Tempe their destination each fall for art buying, collecting and incomparable holiday gift shopping, and that commitment to the art world sets our festival apart and puts Arizona on the map.”

While parking and ADA accessible parking are available at select parking garages, street meters and paid lots around Tempe, the most convenient ways in and out of the festival are by bike, foot or public transport including Valley Metro’s Light Rail, which runs throughout the Valley to nearby stops in Downtown Tempe including the 3rd Street and Mill Avenue stop, as well as the Tempe Transportation Center located at Veterans Way and College Avenue.

For more information about the 50th Fall Tempe Festival of the Arts, please visit the newly updated:

For more information about transportation options, please visit:

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